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Posts Tagged ‘Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR)’

Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR) has paid an initial distribution of $2.06 per share.

We’ve been following NSTR (see our post archive here) because it was a net cash stock that had announced a plan to liquidate. We estimated that the final pay out figure in the liquidation would be around $59M or $2.26 per share, which presented an upside of around 18% from our initial $1.91 position. The company had estimated a slightly lower pay out figure of between $1.90 and $2.10 “assuming we are unable to sell our non-cash assets” and expected the initial distribution to be approximately $1.80 per share. The $2.06 distribution returns our initial capital and makes our profit since inception 7.9%, with further distributions to come.

From the relevant report:

As previously disclosed, on June 12, 2009 Northstar Neuroscience, Inc. (the “Company”) filed Articles of Dissolution (the “Articles of Dissolution”) with the Secretary of State of the State of Washington in accordance with the Company’s Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution (the “Plan of Dissolution”). The Articles of Dissolution became effective, and the Company became a dissolved corporation under Washington law, on July 2, 2009 (the “Effective Date”) at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

In addition, the Company’s common stock (the “Common Stock”) was officially delisted from the NASDAQ Global Market at the opening of trading on the Effective Date, pursuant to the previously filed Form 25, which the Company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and The NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc. on June 22, 2009. The Company has instructed its transfer agent to close the Company’s stock transfer records as of the close of business on the Effective Date and no longer to recognize or record any transfers of shares of the Common Stock after such date except by will, intestate succession or operation of law.

On July 13, 2009, pursuant to the Plan of Dissolution, the board of directors of the Company approved an initial liquidating distribution of $2.06 per share to the shareholders of record of the Common Stock as of the Effective Date. The Company expects to pay this initial liquidating distribution in cash on or about July 15, 2009.

Pursuant to the requirements of Washington law, the Company intends to retain certain of the remaining assets of the Company to satisfy and make reasonable provision for the satisfaction of any current, contingent or conditional claims and liabilities of the Company until such time as the Company’s board of directors determines that it is appropriate to distribute some or all of such remaining assets. The amount and timing of any subsequent and final distributions will be at the discretion of the Company’s board of directors.

(emphasis added)

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in NSTR. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Update June 16, 2009: SOAP has announced that it proposes to liquidate. See our post below.

Update June 3, 2009: We’ve pinned this post to the front page. Any new posts between now and July 4th will appear below this post.

June 1, 2009 marked the end of Greenbackd’s second quarter. It’s time again to report on the performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio and the positions in the portfolio, discuss the evolution of our valuation methodology and outline the future direction of Greenbackd.com.

Second quarter performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio

The second quarter was nothing short of a blockbuster for the Greenbackd Portfolio, up 74.2% on an absolute basis, which was 52.8% higher than the return on the S&P500 return over the same period. A large positive return for the period is heartening, but our celebration is tempered by the fact that it is difficult to avoid a good return in a market that rises 25.0% in a quarter. Our Q1 performance was -3.7% (see our first quarter performance here), which means that our total return since inception (assuming equal weighting in each quarter) is 67.8% against a return on the S&P500 of 11.6%, or an outperformance of 56.2% over the return in the S&P500.

It is still too early to determine how Greenbackd’s strategy of investing in undervalued asset situations with a catalyst is performing, but we believe we are heading in the right direction. Set out below is a list of all the stocks in the Greenbackd Portfolio and the absolute and relative performance of each from the close of the last trading day of the first quarter, Friday, February 28, 2009, to the close on the last trading day in the second quarter, May 29, 2009:

Greenbackd Portfolio Performance 2009 Q2You may have noticed something odd about our presentation of performance. The S&P500 index rose by 25.0% in our second quarter (from 735.09 to 919.14). Our +74.2% performance might suggest an outperformance over the S&P500 index of 49.2%, while we report outperformance of 52.8%. We calculate our performance on a slightly different basis, recording the level of the S&P500 index on the day each stock is added to the portfolio and then comparing the performance of each stock against the index for the same holding period. The Total Relative performance, therefore, is the average performance of each stock against the performance of the S&P500 index for the same periods. As we discussed above, the holding period for Greenbackd’s positions has been too short to provide any meaningful information about the likely performance of the strategy over the long term (2 to 5 years), but we believe that the strategy should outperform the market by a small margin.

Greenbackd’s valuation methodology

We started Greenbackd in an effort to extend our understanding of asset-based valuation described by Benjamin Graham in the 1934 Edition of Security Analysis. (You can see our summary of Graham’s approach here). Through some great discussion with our readers, many of whom work in the fund management industry as experienced analysts or even managing members of hedge funds, and by incorporating the observations of Marty Whitman (see Marty Whitman’s adjustments to Graham’s net net formula here) and Seth Klarman (our Seth Klarman series starts here), we have refined our process. We believe that what started out as a pretty unsophisticated application of Graham’s liquidation value methodology has evolved into a more realistic analysis of the balance sheet and the relationship of certain disclosures in the financial statements to asset value. Our analyses are now quantitatively more robust than when we started and that has manifest itself in better performance.

Tweedy Browne offers some compelling evidence for the asset based valuation approach here.

Update on the holdings in the Greenbackd Portfolio

There are eleven stocks remaining in the Greenbackd Portfolio:

  1. VXGN (added March 26, 2009 @ $0.48)
  2. DRAD (added March 9, 2009 @ $0.88)
  3. ASYS (added March 5, 2009 @ $2.78)
  4. CAPS (added February 27, 2009 @ $0.60)
  5. DITC (added February 19, 2009 @ $0.89)
  6. SOAP (added February 2, 2009 @ $2.50)
  7. NSTR (added January 16, 2009 @ $1.91)
  8. ACLS (added January 8, 2009 @ $0.60)
  9. MATH (added December 17, 2008 @ $0.68)
  10. ABTL (added December 11, 2008 @ $0.43)
  11. AVGN (added December 1, 2008 @ $0.65)

The future of Greenbackd.com

We are taking a brief vacation. We’ll be back full-time after July 4th, always reserving the right to post interesting ideas in the interum and update our open positions. If you’re looking for net nets in the meantime, there are two good screens:

  1. GuruFocus has a Graham net net screen ($249 per year)
  2. Graham Investor NCAV screen (Free)

Greenbackd is a labor of love. We try to create new content every week day, and to get the stock analyses up just after midnight Eastern Standard Time, so that they’re available before the markets open the following day. Most of the stocks that are currently trading at a premium to the price at which we originally identified them traded for a period at a discount to the price at which we identified them. This means that there are plenty of opportunities to trade on our ideas (not that we suggest you do that without reading our disclosures and doing your own research). If you find the ideas here compelling and you get some value from them, you can support our efforts by making a donation via PayPal.

We look forward to bringing you the best undervalued asset situations we can dig up in the next quarter.

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The shareholders of Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR) have approved the complete liquidation of NSTR at a special meeting of shareholders.

We started following NSTR because it was a net cash stock that has announced that it plans to liquidate. NSTR closed Friday at $1.97, giving it a market capitalization of $48.4M. We originally estimated the final pay out figure in the liquidation to be around $59M or $2.26 per share, which presents an upside of around 25%. The company estimates a slightly lower pay out figure of between $1.90 and $2.10 “assuming we are unable to sell our non-cash assets” and expects to make an initial distribution within approximately 45 days after the Effective Date (which is to be announced) of approximately $1.80 per share.

The company’s announcement is as follows:

On May 14, 2009, Northstar Neuroscience, Inc. (the “Company”) held a special meeting of shareholders, at which the shareholders of the Company approved the voluntary dissolution and liquidation of the Company pursuant to a Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution (the “Plan”). Pursuant to the Plan, the Company intends to file articles of dissolution (the “Articles”) with the Secretary of State of the State of Washington as soon as reasonably practicable after resolution of the audit of the Company’s State of Washington tax obligations and receipt of the required revenue clearance certificate from the Department of Revenue of the State of Washington. The Company will be dissolved upon the effective date of the Articles (the “Effective Date”), which may be the date on which the Articles are filed or a later date specified in the Articles. The Company intends to make a public announcement in advance of the anticipated Effective Date and to delist its Common Stock from the Nasdaq Global Market as of the Effective Date.

Pursuant to the Plan, the Company is also authorized to dispose of its remaining non-cash assets, on such terms and at such prices as the Company’s board of directors, without further shareholder approval, may determine to be in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders, to pay or make reasonable provision to pay all claims against and obligations of the Company, to make such provisions as will be reasonably likely to be sufficient to provide compensation for any claim against the Company which is the subject of a pending action, suit or proceeding to which the Company is a party, to distribute on a pro rata basis to the shareholders of the Company the remaining assets of the Company, and, subject to statutory limitations, to take all other actions necessary to wind up and liquidate the Company’s business and affairs.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in NSTR. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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The New York Times has an article by Andrew Pollack, “Drug Investors Lose Patience,” about investors pushing biotechnology companies to liquidate and return capital to investors. Pollack notes that such clashes have become much more common in recent months as the stock market crash has pushed the market capitalization of many biotechnology companies to less than the cash on hand, which creates an opportunity for investors to realize an immediate return if the company dissolves. The article covers three situations that we have been following closely for several months, Avigen Inc (Nasdaq: AVGN), Neurobiological Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:NTII) and Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR).

The first is the clash between Avigen Inc (Nasdaq: AVGN) and Biotechnology Value Fund (BVF). We’ve been following AVGN (see archived posts here) for exactly the reason that Pollack identifies: it’s a net cash stock (i.e. it’s trading at less than the value of its cash after deducting all liabilities) and specialist biotechnology activist fund BVF has been pushing it to liquidate and return its cash to shareholders. MediciNova Inc (NASDAQ:MNOV) has made an offer for AVGN that we think represents a clever way for AVGN’s stockholders to receive cash equivalent to that which they would receive in a liquidation (less $7M to be paid to MNOV) with the possibility for “an extraordinary, uncapped return” if MNOV is successful post-merger. We estimate AVGN’s cash at around $1.22 per share (BVF estimates $1.20 per share), which is around 20% higher than AVGN’s $1.02 close yesterday.

Pollack provides a good background to the AVGN vs BVF stoush:

The Biotechnology Value Fund, often called BVF, was a longtime shareholder in Avigen. But it sold 640,000 shares, nearly all its holdings, for about $3.95 to $4.60 a share. The sale was near the stock’s highs for the year – in the two months before Avigen was scheduled to announce, in October, the clinical trial results of its drug to treat a symptom of multiple sclerosis. After the drug failed, BVF swooped in and bought more than eight million shares, nearly a 30 percent stake, at about 58 cents a share. That was well below Avigen’s cash total of about $1.90 a share at the time.

BVF has made a $1-a-share tender offer for Avigen and is trying to replace the directors. If it gains control, it could liquidate Avigen or sell it to MediciNova, which has said it wants to buy it. Mr. Chahine, the chief of Avigen, which is based in Alameda, Calif., said its assets might be parlayed into a deal that would be worth more than BVF or MediciNova would pay and more than the liquidation value. “All we’re saying is, give us an opportunity to canvass the field, see what’s out there and bring something to the shareholders,” he said.

But Mr. Nodelman said such a process might eat up the company’s remaining cash. “Someone’s got to police the space,” he said. “We’re making sure that the last $50 million in the company don’t go to the bankers and the consultants and the golden parachutes.”

BVF, which specializes in smaller biotech companies, has become the most outspoken investor pressing for its money back. The fund, based in San Francisco, gets about half of its capital from the Ziff family, which made its fortune in magazine publishing.

Mr. Nodelman makes no apologies for BVF’s having bought Avigen stock again after the collapse.

He also neatly captures the perspective of AVGN’s CEO, Ken Chahine, who, we think, speaks for on behalf of most CEOs in the same position:

“I hear that argument” about shareholder rights, said Kenneth G. Chahine, Avigen’s chief. “But it’s really ‘I want to raid the cash.’ We’re back to 1987 and ‘Barbarians at the Gate.’ “

The second situation mentioned in the article that we have been following is Neurobiological Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:NTII):

BVF is also one of four investors, which collectively own about two-thirds of the shares, demanding money back from Neurobiological Technologies of Emeryville, Calif.

The company’s stroke drug is derived from the venom of the Malayan pit viper. Three of the investors, including BVF, were shareholders when that drug failed in a clinical trial in December. The fourth bought in after the failure. The stock now trades at 58 cents, but its liquidation value would be as high as $1 a share.

Matthew Loar, the chief financial officer, said the company was sympathetic to the requests but had not yet decided what to do. In any case, he said, it could not act as fast as the investors want.

“You can’t just turn off the lights in a company in a day,” he said. Among other things, the company must figure out what to do with 1,000 poisonous snakes, he said. “We’re going to get rid of them in the most expeditious, reasonable way possible.”

We’ve been following NTII because it’s trading at a substantial discount to our estimate of its liquidating value. At its $0.59 close yesterday, NTII has a market capitalization of just $15.9M, which is around 10% higher than our $14.5M estimate for its net cash value but around two-thirds of our estimate of its $21.9M or $0.81 per share liquidation value. There exists the possibility that its liquidation value is significantly higher again if NTII receives a portion of the net proceeds paid to Celtic Pharmaceuticals upon a sale of XERECEPT. With stockholders representing 45% (note that Samuel L. Schwerin estimates 65%) of the outstanding stock of NTII calling for its liquidation, we feel the company will be under some pressure to accede and that should lead to a reasonably quick resolution.

The third situation we have been following is Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR), and it is particularly interesting because the company has agreed to liquidate:

Under pressure from the hedge fund RA Capital Management, for example, Northstar Neuroscience, a medical device company in Seattle whose stroke treatment failed, is proposing to liquidate, with shareholders receiving an estimated $1.90 to $2.10 a share in cash. The company’s stock, which had been as low as 90 cents in November, closed at $1.90 on Monday.

We started following NSTR because it is a net cash stock that has announced that it plans to liquidate. NSTR closed yesterday at $1.92, giving it a market capitalization of $50.2M. We originally estimated the final pay out figure in the liquidation to be around $59M or $2.26 per share, which presents an upside of around 17%. The company estimates a slightly lower pay out figure of between $1.90 and $2.10 “assuming we are unable to sell our non-cash assets” and expects to make an initial distribution within approximately 45 days after the Effective Date (which is to be announced) of approximately $1.80 per share.

The article notes that in some cases the investors asking for their money back are “not long-suffering shareholders” but “speculators who bought in only after the stock price collapsed, hoping to make a quick killing.” Aside from their characterization as “speculators,” we find ourselves in the latter camp. Our definition of investment hell is being caught in what Pollack calls a “zombie” – a company “lurching from product to product, surviving years or even decades without ever achieving success.” Finding a stock trading below a conservative estimate of the value of its assets with a good prospect that the value can be unlocked is our definition of investment heaven. Here’s to a few more quick killings, even if an investor requires the patience of Job to get them.

Hat tip to John Allen.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in AVGN. We do not have a holding in NTII or NSTR. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR) has filed its notice of special meeting of shareholders annexing the Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution (Plan).

We started following NSTR because it is a net cash stock that has announced that it plans to liquidate. NSTR closed yesterday at $1.85, giving it a market capitalization of $48.4M. We originally estimated the final pay out figure in the liquidation to be around $59M or $2.26 per share, which presents an upside of around 25%. The company estimates a slightly lower pay out figure of between $1.90 and $2.10 “assuming we are unable to sell our non-cash assets” and expects to make an initial distribution within approximately 45 days after the Effective Date (which is to be announced) of approximately $1.80 per share. The following is extracted from the Plan:

Q: What will shareholders receive in the liquidation?

A: Pursuant to the Plan of Dissolution, we intend to liquidate all of our remaining non-cash assets and, after satisfying or making reasonable provision for the satisfaction of claims, obligations and liabilities as required by law, distribute any remaining cash to our shareholders. We can only estimate the amount of cash that may be available for distribution among our shareholders. We currently estimate that the amount ultimately distributed will be between approximately $1.90 and $2.10 per share of common stock, assuming we are unable to sell our non-cash assets. Many of the factors influencing the amount of cash distributed to our shareholders as a liquidating distribution cannot be currently quantified with certainty and are subject to change. Accordingly, you will not know the exact amount of any liquidating distributions you may receive as a result of the Plan of Dissolution when you vote on the proposal to approve the Plan of Dissolution. You may receive substantially less than the amount we currently estimate. See “Proposal 1: Approval of Plan of Dissolution-Estimated Liquidating Distributions.”

Q: When will shareholders receive payment of any available liquidation proceeds?

A: Although we are not able to predict with certainty the precise nature, amount or timing of any distributions, we presently expect to make an initial distribution, within approximately 45 days after the Effective Date, to holders of record of our common stock as of the close of business on the Effective Date of approximately $1.80 per share. We do not intend to make any further distributions until after we sell, liquidate or otherwise dispose of our remaining non-cash assets, consisting primarily of our RenovaTM Cortical Stimulation System and related intellectual property, and pay or otherwise make reasonable provision for the payment of claims against and obligations of Northstar. We are not able to predict with certainty the precise nature, amount or timing of any distributions, primarily due to our inability to predict the amount of our remaining liabilities or the amount that we will expend during the course of the liquidation and the net value, if any, of our remaining non-cash assets. To the extent that the amount of our liabilities or the amounts that we expend during the liquidation are greater, or the value of our non-cash assets is less, than we anticipate, our shareholders may receive substantially less than the amount we currently estimate. Our board of directors has not established a firm timetable for any final distributions to our shareholders. Subject to contingencies inherent in winding up our business, our board of directors intends to authorize any distributions as promptly as reasonably practicable in the best interests of Northstar and its shareholders. Our board of directors, in its discretion, will determine the nature, amount and timing of all distributions.

Assuming shares can be purchased at NSTR’s $1.85 close yesterday, after receiving the initial $1.80 per share, an investor will have $0.05 per share of capital invested for an upside of between $0.10 ($1.90 minus $1.80) and $0.30 ($2.10 minus $1.80) per share plus the possibility of receiving a further amount for NSTR’s non-cash assets, which we estimate could be as much as $0.16 per share. That seems like a favorable risk:reward ratio to us. The liquidation is still subject to stockholder approval, but we think NSTR presents a reasonable prospect for a good return in a short time frame.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in NSTR. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Greenbackd Portfolio Q1 performance and update

March 1, 2009 marked the end of Greenbackd’s first quarter, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to update you on the performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio and the positions in the portfolio, discuss some changes in our valuation methodology since our first post and outline the future direction of Greenbackd.com.

First quarter performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio

We get many questions about the content and performance of the portfolio. We had originally planned to report on a six-monthly basis, but we have now decided to report on a quarterly basis so that we can address these questions on a more frequent basis. Although it is still too early to determine how Greenbackd’s strategy of investing in undervalued asset situations with a catalyst is performing, we’ve set out below a list of all the stocks we’ve included in the Greenbackd Portfolio and the absolute and relative performance of each at the close on the last trading day in our first quarter, Friday, February 28, 2009:

greenbackd-portfolio-performance-2009-q13The absolute total return across the current and former positions as at February 28, 2009 was -3.7%, which was +7.0% higher than the S&P500’s return over the same periods. A negative return for the first period is disappointing, but we are heartened by the fact that we outperformed the market by a small margin.

You may have noticed something odd about our presentation of performance. The S&P500 index declined by 18.0% in our first quarter (from 896.24 to 735.09). Our -3.7% performance might suggest an outperformance over the S&P500 index of +14.3%. We calculate our performance on a slightly different basis, recording the level of the S&P500 index on the day each stock is added to the portfolio and then comparing the performance of each stock against the index for the same holding period. The Total Relative performance, therefore, is the average performance of each stock against the performance of the S&P500 index for the same periods. As we discussed above, the holding period for Greenbackd’s positions has been too short to provide any meaningful information about the likely performance of the strategy over the long term (2 to 5 years), but we believe that the strategy should outperform the market by a small margin.

Greenbackd’s valuation methodology

We started Greenbackd in an effort to extend our understanding of asset-based valuation described by Benjamin Graham in the 1934 Edition of Security Analysis. Through some great discussion with our readers, many of whom work in the fund management industry as experienced analysts or even managing members of hedge funds, we have had the opportunity to refine our process. We believe that what started out as a pretty unsophisticated application of Graham’s liquidation value methodology has evolved into a more realistic analysis of the balance sheet and the relationship of certain disclosures in the financial statements to asset value. We’re not yet ready to send it into space, but we believe our analyses are now qualitatively more robust than when we started and that has manifest itself quantitatively in better performance (more on this below).

The two main differences between our early analyses and our more recent ones are as follows (these are truly cringe-worthy, but that’s why we undertook the exercise):

  1. We didn’t take account of the effect of off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations. This caused us to enter into several positions we should have avoided, including BGP and VVTV.
  2. We were using overly optimistic estimates for the recovery rates of assets in liquidation. For example, we started using 50% of Gross PP&E. We now use 20% of Net PP&E. We now apply Graham’s formula as the base case and deviate only when we believe that Graham’s formulation doesn’t reflect reality.

The effect of these two broad errors in analysis was to create several “false positives,” which is to say that we added stocks to the portfolio that wouldn’t have passed our current, more rigorous standards. The performance of those “false positive” stocks has been almost uniformly negative, and dragged down the performance of the portfolio. As an exercise, we went back through all the positions we have opened since we started the site and applied our current criteria, which are more stringent and dour than our earlier standards. We found that we would not have opened positions in the following eight stocks:

  • BRN (-13.1% on an absolute basis and +4.9% on a relative basis)
  • BGP (-10.8% on an absolute basis and -21.6% on a relative basis)
  • COBR (-17.1% on an absolute basis and +3.6% on a relative basis)
  • HRT (-25.3% on an absolute basis and -9.7% on a relative basis)
  • KONA (+87.8% on an absolute basis and +81.9% on a relative basis)
  • MGAM (-24.2% on an absolute basis and -5.0% on a relative basis)
  • VVTV (-25.0% on an absolute basis and -23.1% on a relative basis)
  • ZLC (-72.0% on an absolute basis and -61.1% on a relative basis)

It seems we got lucky with KONA, but the performance of the balance of the stocks was wholly negative. The performance across all stocks listed above was -12.5% on an absolute basis and -3.9% on a relative basis. Excluding these eight stocks from our portfolio (i.e. treating the portfolio as if we had not entered into these positions) would have resulted in a slightly positive absolute return of +0.7% and a relative performance over the S&P500 of +12.5%. This is a compelling reason to apply the more dour and rigorous standards.

We like to think we’ve now learned out lesson and the more dour and rigorous standards are here to stay. Set out below is an example balance sheet summary (for Chicago Rivet & Machine Co. (AMEX:CVR)) showing our present base case discounts from book value (circled in red):

example-summary-2

Readers will note that these are the same base case discounts from book value suggested by Benjamin Graham in the 1934 Edition of Security Analysis, more fully described in our Valuing long-term and fixed assets post under the heading “Graham’s approach to valuing long-term and fixed assets.” Why we ever deviated from these standards in the first place is beyond us.

Update on the holdings in the Greenbackd Portfolio

Leading on from our discussion above, four of the stocks we picked using the initial, overly optimistic criteria no longer meet our more stringent standards but haven’t yet been removed from the portfolio. We’re going to take our medicine now and do just that. To make it clear, these stocks aren’t being removed because the value has deteriorated, but because we made a mistake adding them to the portfolio in the first place. As much as we’d like to treat these positions as void ab initio (“invalid from the beginning”), we’re not going to do that. We’ve made a full accounting of the impact they’ve had on the portfolio in the First quarter performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio section above, but we don’t want them affecting our future performance. The stocks to be removed from the Greenbackd Portfolio and their absolute and relative returns are as follows:

  • BRN (-13.1% on an absolute basis and +4.9% on a relative basis)
  • HRT (-25.3% on an absolute basis and -9.7% on a relative basis)
  • MGAM (-24.2% on an absolute basis and -5.0% on a relative basis)
  • COBR (-17.1% on an absolute basis and +3.6% on a relative basis)

We’ll provide a more full discussion of where we went wrong with these stocks at a later date, but suffice it to say for present purposes that all were errors from the second bullet point in the Greenbackd’s valuation methodology section above (i.e. overly optimistic estimates for the recovery rates of assets in liquidation).

There are fifteen stocks remaining in the Greenbackd Portfolio:

Eight of these positions (ABTL, ACLS, ARCW, CAPS, CRC, CRGN, NSTR, and VOXX) are trading at or below our nominal purchase price and initial valuations. The remaining seven positions (AVGN, DITC, IKAN, MATH, NENG, NTII, and SOAP) are trading above our intial purchase price but are still at varying discounts to our valuations. We’ll provide a more full update on these positions over the course of this week.

The future of Greenbackd.com

We are going to trial some small changes to the layout of the site over the next few weeks. We’ve already made the first change: the newest comments now appear at the top of the list. We’ll also be amalgamating some pages and adding some new ones, including a page dedicated to tracking the portfolio with links to the analyses. We’re also considering some options for generating income from the site. At the moment, Greenbackd is a labor of love. We try to create new content every week day, and to get the stock analyses up just after midnight Eastern Standard Time, so that they’re available before the markets open the following day. More than 80% of the stocks that are currently trading at a premium to the price at which we originally identified them (NTII, SOAP, IKAN, DITC, NENG, MATH and AVGN) traded for a period at a discount to the price at which we identified them. This means that there are plenty of opportunities to trade on our ideas (not that we suggest you do that). If you find the ideas here compelling and you get some value from them, you can support our efforts by making a donation via PayPal.

We look forward to bringing you the best undervalued asset situations we can dig up in the next quarter.

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Northstar Neuroscience Inc (NASDAQ:NSTR) is a net cash stock that has announced that it plans to liquidate. NSTR closed yesterday at $1.91, giving it a market capitalization of $50M. We estimate its net cash value to be around 30% higher at $2.49 or $65.1M. The final pay out figure in the liquidation will be slightly lower. We estimate that figure at around $59.1M or $2.26 per share, which presents an upside of around 18%. The liquidation is still subject to stockholder approval and the upside isn’t huge, but NSTR presents a reasonable prospect for a good return in a short time frame.

About NSTR

The company’s most recent filing in relation to the liquidation attaches the following press release:

Northstar Neuroscience, Inc., (NASDAQ:NSTR), a medical device company developing therapies for the treatment of major depressive disorder, today announced that its Board of Directors has determined, in its best business judgment after consideration of potential strategic alternatives, that it is in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders to liquidate the Company’s assets and to dissolve the Company. The Company’s Board of Directors has approved a Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution of the Company (the “Plan”), subject to shareholder approval. The Company intends to hold a special meeting of shareholders to seek approval of the Plan and will file related proxy materials with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in the near future. Prior to the special meeting the Company will reduce its headcount to a limited number of employees who will assist in the termination of operations.

The Plan contemplates an orderly wind down of the Company’s business and operations. If the Company’s shareholders approve the Plan, the Company intends to file articles of dissolution, satisfy or resolve its remaining liabilities and obligations, including but not limited to contingent liabilities and claims, ongoing clinical trial obligations, lease obligations, severance for terminated employees, and costs associated with the liquidation and dissolution, and make distributions to its shareholders of cash available for distribution, subject to applicable legal requirements. Following shareholder approval of the Plan and the filing of articles of dissolution, the Company would delist its common stock from NASDAQ.

The value proposition

As the press release mentions, NSTR is being wound down. The September 10Q shows value on the balance sheet  (the “Carrying” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

nstr-summary

NSTR’s value is predominantly cash and short-term investments in the amount of $68.3M or $2.61 per share. With total liabilities of only $3.9M or $0.15 per share, NSTR had a net cash value in September of around $64.4M or $2.46 per share. If we assume that NSTR used around $4M in cash last quarter and it costs circa $2M to wind up the company, we estimate it will pay out around $59.1M or $2.26 per share.

The Catalyst

NSTR was prompted to liquidate at the urging of RA Capital Management, which sent the following letter (annexed to its last 13D filing) to the company on December 15 last year:

Board of Directors
c/o Alan Levy, Ph.D., Chairman of the Board
Northstar Neuroscience, Inc.
2401 Fourth Avenue, Suite 300
Seattle, Washington 98121

Dear Members of the Board of Directors:

We continue to be shocked and frustrated by the complete lack of response from Northstar Neuroscience, Inc. (the “Company” or “Northstar”) to the several options it has to preserve and return value to its stockholders. As you know, we sent a letter to each of you on July 14, 2008, in which we outlined a reasonably detailed proposal on how the Company could stop its hemorrhaging of cash, provide a distribution to its stockholders, and sell its remaining assets for as much value as possible. Since July, the Company’s stock, which was then trading at an astonishing 30% discount to its cash balance per share, has fallen by nearly 50% and continues to trade at an even more appalling 60% discount from its cash balance per share. Although you have refused to return capital to shareholders, you have put forth no viable business plan for the Company. It would seem that some of you remain content to pay yourselves salaries from cash that belongs to stockholders while contributing nothing of any positive value in return.

While we acknowledge that you have recently taken some steps to reduce expenses, we reiterate that now is not the time for half-measures. Your reduction of expenses slows value destruction but does not permit the recovery of shareholder value reflected in the Company’s cash balance. If your strategy is to arrange for a white knight to acquire the Company at a premium to cash, that is not a strategy but more like hope and a prayer given the current economic environment and market circumstances. The credit crisis and market collapse we have witnessed since July have made investors and companies much less willing to pay for all but the most valued of strategic assets. The Company’s failed programs hardly qualify as strategic assets; in fact, the market has clearly assigned them a negative enterprise value (approximately -$1.40/share, which offsets $2.40/share in cash to yield the current $1.00/share for the stock). The only asset of value that the Company possesses is its cash; this asset should not be wasted and ought to be returned to shareholders as soon as possible that they might invest it more profitably.

Our July 14, 2008 letter speaks for itself and your silence, inaction, and inability to offer any other options are increasingly alarming. Any options you might have thought you had in July have since disappeared. We also want to make clear that any attempt by you to merge or otherwise combine with any other public or private company, thereby inflating the enterprise value of the combined entity without increasing the share price for your existing stockholders, would further erode any potential value in Northstar shares that could be realized through a cash dividend or share buyback. If a merger or acquisition of another company or asset were put to a stockholder vote, we would vote against such a proposal and believe that other stockholders would likely prefer to have their capital returned to them.

We again urge you to make a distribution or dividend to your stockholders as soon as possible, preferably announcing your intention to do so prior to the end of the year. We believe that most investors have realized losses this year and that a large cash dividend would likely not have significant tax consequences for most investors. Alternatively, we urge you to craft and implement a share buy-back program, which would also have the effect of raising the share price and allowing stockholders the opportunity to salvage some of the value of their investment, possibly more tax efficiently than via a dividend. If you indeed feel that the long term prospects for the Company are good, then buy-out any stockholders who do not share your same view. Again, we expect you to take prompt action, including making a decision on these matters prior to the end of the year.

If you do not wish to take any of the actions outlined above because you have doubts about whether doing so is in the best interests of the stockholders, then we urge you to call a Special Meeting of the stockholders and simply ask your stockholders directly. After all, you owe fiduciary duties to your stockholders and they continue to see the value of their investment decline in the face of your inaction.

Alan J. Levy, you are the Chairman of the Board of Directors and therefore hold a leadership position alongside John S. Bowers, Jr., making you particularly responsible for the direction of this company. However, we also specifically recognize the role that each of the members of the board play. Susan K. Barnes, you have a responsibility to speak out against the waste of shareholder capital. Michael Ellwein, your position with Three Arch and history at Medtronic would suggest that you have not always made a career of value destruction, so we can hardly imagine that you are comfortable letting it happen at Northstar, and yet the situation continues to deteriorate. Albert J. Graf, you must be frustrated about the lack of any results from the Company’s management, and yet have you done all that you can to protect shareholders from management’s poor judgment? Robert E. McNamara, as a career CFO who ought to have an appreciation for fiscal responsibility, you are permitting Northstar’s disrespect for its shareholder’s capital to continue to the detriment of your professional reputation. Dale A. Spencer, you have had a long relationship with the Company, since 1999, but you are also a private investor, and we have to believe that some part of you is disgusted by the idea of Northstar management continuing to collect generous salaries while running an enterprise that the market has valued well below zero for nearly a year. Carol D. Winslow, what should the investors whose capital you manage at Channel Medical Partners LP conclude about your acumen and values as a business person if you continue to sit passively by while Northstar’s management transfers the wealth of its investors into the bank accounts of its executives without creating any positive equity value whatsoever? How long will each of you allow this to continue? We urge you to immediately solve this problem once and for all.

We recognize that shareholders of the Company have little influence; you have the safety of a staggered board and Washington state laws of incorporation, which make a travesty of corporate governance and fiduciary duty. Shareholders can only hope that you have the decency to give them a chance to express their wishes to you formally if you will not take immediate action to protect the value of their investment in the Company through a dividend or share buyback. While you certainly have challenged our notion that boards represent the interests of the shareholders, we remain optimistic that, with some persistence, shareholders can prevail on even the most intransigent management and board to listen to their concerns and protect their investment or personally pay back shareholders for what, in our opinion, is a gross dereliction of fiduciary duty.

Unless we hear from you by Friday, December 19, 2008, that you intend either to take the actions urged above or call a Special Meeting of the stockholders as urged above, then we intend to submit and vigorously pursue shareholder proposals for your next annual meeting. These proposals will, among other things, seek input from your stockholders on the issue of a distribution or dividend and/or share buy-back program and will put forth a slate of new candidates to be elected to your board of directors at that meeting.

We intend to pursue our interests here aggressively, both for our benefit and hopefully for the benefit of all stockholders, including preserving our right to take legal action against you and the Company.

Sincerely,

RA Capital Healthcare Fund, L.P.
By: RA Capital Management, LLC, its general partner

Peter Kolchinsky
Managing Member

The board has now agreed to put the proposal to liquidate to NSTR stockholders. We won’t know management’s estimate for the likely distributions until NSTR files the Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution of the Company in anticipation of the special meeting of stockholders. As NSTR’s value is predominantly in cash and short-term investments, the liquidation should be a relatively straight-forward exercise.

Conclusion

At $1.91, NSTR is trading at an 18% discount to our $2.26 estimate of its distributions in the proposed liquidation. We will have a better estimate for the likely distribution when the company files its Plan of Complete Liquidation and Dissolution of the Company. While the upside isn’t huge, and there is still some small risk that the plan will not be approved by stockholders, we think NSTR presents a reasonable prospect for a good (but not great) return in a short time frame.

NSTR closed yesterday at $1.91.

The S&P500 Index closed yesterday at 843.74.

Hat tip to commenter manny for the tip.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in NSTR. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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